The Innocence of Age


308 pages
ISBN 0-394-22289-X
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is associate editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


This successor to Bissoondath’s highly praised first novel, A Casual
Brutality, is set in Toronto and centres on the clashing values that
alienate a father from his son. The generational conflict played out
between Pasco and his son Danny is reflected in the transformation of
the city itself “from a contained and self-satisfied conventionality
to an immense and hungry metropolitan grandeur.” Leon Simmons, a
cutthroat developer/landlord and Danny’s boss, represents the worst of
the “new” Toronto. He is the evil father in competition with
Pasco—the good, albeit deeply flawed, father—for Danny’s soul,
which for much of the novel submits to the Faustian arrangement,
although with growing unease.

The regulars who inhabit Pasco’s greasy spoon are a ragtag group of
immigrants, blue-collar workers, homeless people, and streetwalkers. A
tragedy involving two of its members objectifies what Pasco sees as a
remorseless fragmentation of community. A more intimate loss, and
continuing preoccupation for Pasco, is the death of his wife five years
ago. The novel’s most poignant moments involve his attempts to come to
terms with the palpable but indescribable sense of absence that
accompanies the death of a loved one.

Bissoondath accommodates his ambitious, sweeping themes in a tight
package consisting of deft characterization, authentic settings, and a
fast-paced story that is never allowed to stray beyond the book’s
thematic parameters. Commendably taut, the novel is also oppressively
schematic; it shouts its themes of new vs. old, community vs. anonymity,
and in Simmons presents a character in desperate need of the kind of
shading and nuance that would liberate him from the rapacious landlord
image—an image that scores moral points but cripples believability.


Bissoondath, Neil., “The Innocence of Age,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,